Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien recently took a position that we cannot view subjectively. He took a position so outlandish one can only assume he’s either willfully lying to us, he doesn’t actually live in Seattle, or he’s absolutely lost his mind. It could be a combination.
Last Friday, at the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, O’Brien pretended that the City of Seattle is so dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists that it’s an “act of bravery” just walking across the street.
“We should have a city where whether you’re biking to work or walking across the street to go to the park or pick up groceries or a cup of coffee, that that’s not an act of bravery but an act of daily living and we can do better,” he claimed with a straight face.
That statement defies reality. I don’t often call things dumb – it makes me uncomfortable – but I’m struggling to find an honest way to otherwise depict this statement.
In what city does O’Brien live? When I walk across the street to visit my local Starbucks every morning, I’m not committing an act of bravery; I’m participating in “an act of daily living” that O’Brien doesn’t seem to recognize as reality.
Seattle is routinely noted for pedestrian safety. For example, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Index rated us safest in the country in 2014! Have things changed dramatically since then? As someone who walks a good portion of my week, I find O’Brien’s statement impossible to defend.
In fact, there is no context in which this is an informed statement. But I’ll give you his context anyway.
O’Brien is pushing for more bike lanes, even though bike commuting continues to decline. He claims that more bike lanes would make biking safer. To make the case, he used two dead commuters as props. I don’t make that claim lightly but since he made it seem like there were a considerable number of dead commuters, I wanted to investigate the cases.
I contacted his office for the names of the people he cited. I didn’t get them. Why? His office told me that O’Brien “threw away the paper that had the names” on them. That makes it seem like he just did some brief research to make a specious point; if he cares about these victims the way he claims, one would think they could provide the names.
Perhaps his office isn’t quick to release the names because the data doesn’t back up his point. Yes, all accidental deaths are tragic, but to claim two deaths show we have a bike safety problem where it’s “an act of bravery” to ride or walk across a street is as ridiculous as claiming one gun death means the city is dealing with a gun violence epidemic.